Category Archives: How-To

Forgotten Florida – A Fly Fishing Adventure

If northwest Florida isn’t forgotten by many fly fishers, you could make a strong argument that it is certainly overlooked…

The Everglades, the Keys, Mosquito Lagoon… These places always seem to come up in any Florida fishing discussion.  Jacksonville and St. Augustine rarely get mentioned.  Nevertheless, at the end of March, I experienced the flyfishing these northwest Forida locations have to offer.  It was definitely well worth the visit.

IMG_0181I must admit that the primary purpose of the trip wasn’t fishing – it was a vacation with my eighteen year-old daughter, Kerri.  She heard about the great beach and historic sites in St. Augustine and suggested it as a possible destination.  Naturally, the first thing I did was Google the fishing possibilities.  Eureka!  Bingo!  There were definitely redfish to be caught and saltwater marshes to be explored.

We actually stayed in St. Augustine Beach, which is just outside of St. Augustine proper and about an hour south of Jacksonville.  There are lots of reasonably-priced beach side restaurants and reasonably-priced beach side accommodations. It’s nice because in so places today, the words “reasonably-priced” and “beach side” just don’t seem to go together.  Nevertheless, the beach is gorgeous and it stretches for miles.

We got up early on our first morning and made the 1 hour drive to Jacksonville.  Jacksonville doesn’t conjure up wilderness images like the Everglades, but its satellite view on Google maps reveals a lot of uninhabited coastal backcountry.  We met our guide, Rich Santos, on the edge of the Timucuan Nature Preserve, which is actually within city limits.  A front had moved through a couple days before and it was downright cold – even through several layers – as his skiff sped us up a creek into the saltwater marsh.

IMG_0174He stopped at a little hole just downstream of a bridge.  My daughter was rigged up with a spinning rod and a jig.  Rich had me using a floating line with a 15 foot intermediate tip.  He tied on a black over white Clouser with a good amount of gold flash and big red eyes.  It was the first Clouser I’d ever seen with a spiky hairdo, since the deer hair butts just behind the hook eye were left sticking up. Instead of the typical slender profile, the fly took on the more tubular shape of a mullet.  The idea was to cast upstream and scratch the fly along the bottom back to the boat.

Given the post-front temperatures and bright skies, I truthfully wasn’t expecting much.  Nevertheless, within an hour, both Kerri and I had connected with a couple of redfish and a couple of seatrout.   One trout measured 15 inches; the reds were about 18 inches each.  The remaining trout was pushing gator status and stretched out to 21 inches.  All of them hit hard and fought strong and deep.   I was actually surprised at how hard the big trout pulled.  I didn’t think they were noted for their fighting ability but this one pulled off a fair bit of line against the drag.

IMG_0168As the action slowed, Rich had the skiff nosing up the creek, deeper into the marsh.  Beyond the creek, there were expanses of marsh grass.  Beyond the vast expanses of marsh grass, there were big beautiful trees.  Jacksonville had seemingly vanished behind us.  Our next stop was where the creek widened out into a shallow flat about the size of football field.  The wind was really starting to pick up and the water was quite discoloured; nevertheless, Rich hoped we might see some reds pushing water.  He had me change my line to a full floater.

There were definitely a school or two of redfish working that flat.  Every 10 minutes or so, they’d create a good bow wave and show themselves. If a school of bonefish makes nervous water, a school of redfish makes terrified water! The water surface doesn’t merely dance around a little bit, it looks like a motorboat wake. Sometimes, I got off an intercepting cast and sometimes we just watched them in the distance.  My daughter even threw a live shrimp at them but none wanted to eat at all.

Eventually, Rich piloted the skiff down the creek and we tried another couple flats.  The word creek is a bit deceiving because it was more like a maze of channels surrounded by marsh grass.  We also worked a couple of juicy looking outside bends. No matter where we stopped, fish activity had apparently ceased and desisted.  With whitecaps starting to form on the bigger flats, we called it a day.  Although not stellar, it had definitely been fun.

IMG_0294The next day saw us poking around the historic sites of St. Augustine.  The temperatures were starting to climb and even though St. Augustine has the charm of old world Europe, all I could think about was redfish getting active in skinny water.

The next morning was pleasantly warm and I woke up early.  Kerri, as teenagers are prone to do, was going to sleep in and hit the beach.  I met guide Tommy Derringer at a local marina for a half day fishing. We started with his skiff idling through the picturesque St. Augustine harbor past sailboats and sportfishers.   Soon, he opened the throttle and we roared north down the Intracoastal Waterway, leaving civilization behind us.  Once more, there was nothing to see but marsh grass, the odd boat, and big trees.

IMG_0198 After a 20 minute run, he eased the boat onto a flat covered with clumps of marsh grass.  He took the poling platform and I was on the bow.  The water was still discolored but Tommy was quite sure we’d see some tails.  Eventually, Tommy poled us up a narrow creek that fed the flat as the tide fell.  It reminded me of a Montana spring creek.  There were slight riffles on the surface and banks of marsh grass instead of pasture.  On Tommy’s advice, I cast my fly upstream and let it drift down through some of the more prominent riffles.

“There’s an oyster bar up ahead,” said Tommy.  “There’s always a fish or two on top of it.  Right where the creek widens.”  When we got to the broad spot  – it was like a big pool – Tommy staked out the boat.  I could see the oyster bar underneath about 6 inches of water about 50 feet away on the far side of the pool.  And I could see 3 or 4 redfish patrolling the bar.  They were a good size – maybe 6 pounds or so.  Unfortunately, the geometry of the situation forced me to throw backhanded.  And the wind from a couple days ago was still persisting slightly. So my casting wasn’t up to snuff and I didn’t draw any interest.

IMG_0314I only had about 3 shots before it was time to go.  The water was draining out of the creek pretty quickly and we didn’t want to be stranded. The rest of the day saw us poling along oyster bars that lined the Intracoastal Waterway and also plumbing the deep water rocks along the inlet to the St. Augustine harbor. Other than a very small, very enthusiastic bluefish, my daydreams from the day before didn’t come to fruition.  Nevertheless, the sight of those redfish picking their way across the oyster bar made the day worthwhile.

Before I said good-bye to Tommy, he pointed out a couple of nearby opportunities for some DIY wading.  He said if he wanted to get me into a fish somehow, if not in person.  I appreciate that kind of enthusiasm in a guide and promised to give it a shot.

The next day was a non-fishing day.  Kerri and I drove out to Okefenokee Swamp for some guided kayaking.  It was spectacular.  We got some close-up views of alligators – sometimes maybe even too close-up – and watched the sunset from the heart of the swamp.  It made for a late night.

IMG_0253The late night was OK by me since Kerri was looking to sleep in again the next day.  I made a beeline for a spot Tommy told me about.  It was almost like a roadside version of where the redfish were on the oyster bar.  There was lots of marsh grass and even a little creek flowing through it.  Regardless, I did connect with a redfish – only about 15 inches long – but, for some reason, very satisfying…  And just in time to meet Kerri for an afternoon at the local outlet mall.

There are definitely some good flyfishing opportunities in northwest Florida.  It might not be the place for a hard-core fishing trip, but if you are looking to combine fly fishing with a family vacation, it really fits the bill.

Essentials For Pike Part 2 – The Packing List

Spring is fast approaching and the pike are staging for their spawn; the females are full of eggs and are aggressively taking streamers and the males are battling off competitors willing to bite anything that may pass in front of them. With the fishing turning on I want to go over more of my packing essentials for these apex predators. I went over rods, reels, and lines in part one of my packing list, part two will focus towards leaders, tools, and the flies to use.

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After I have put together my rod outfit, the next item to think about is your leader. There are two ways to go about finding a leader. First and the easiest way would be to buy a tapered leader specified for pike. Both Rio and Umpqua have pike specific leaders, they look like your traditional tapered leader you would use for trout but have a piece of wire tied to the end to keep the fish from slicing your fly off. This is a great way to get started, simple and fast, just a loop to loop connection and you’re ready to go.RI31PKML_lg

Using wire isn’t always the best way to go; sometimes pike can become leader shy, depending on the fishing pressure and water quality, wire leaders can spook fish at times. For locations or times when wire is not ideal we switch over to custom hand tied fluorocarbon leaders. I know what some of you are going to think when I say “hand tied leaders”: sounds complicated, but it’s not. We start with about a five foot section of 20 pound nylon tippet; we tie a barrel swivel onto one end of the 20 pound and tie a perfection loop on the other side. This will allow you to make a loop to loop connection like you would from any other manufactured leader. Next you will want to tie on a section of 60 pound fluorocarbon onto the other side of the swivel, usually anywhere from two to four feet, this is the section that will really help your fly turn over and the stronger, thicker section will help avoid pike from cutting off your fly but it may still happen.

Next on the agenda would be a good selection of flies, you want to have multiple colors for varying conditions. I still stick to the old saying when it comes to my fly selection: “Light days, light colors. Dark days, dark colors”. When I buy or tie flies the main components I really look for in a pike fly are flash and water pushing ability. It doesn’t necessarily have to be both, but at least one of those attributes is a must for myself. The flash does a great job enticing the fish and coercing a strike, where the flies mass helps push water towards a target’s lateral lines, once again enticing and coercing a fish to eat. A few of my favorite flies to use in our area are the Gen-X Bunny, Umpqua Pike Snake, Umpqua Pike Fly, and Barry’s Pike Fly.  Although these are my go-to, I have also had some luck with a few saltwater baitfish patterns, such as clousers and deceivers.

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You will also need some essential tools when out chasing pike. The first and foremost are a pair of pliers, the longer the better in this case. You want to keep your hands as far away from the business end of the pike as you can, so the shortest pair of pliers I would use would be 8 inches. If the fish gets hooked down deep you may have to cut the fly off, which is why I use a long pair of Rancher pliers, in the 12 inch size.  If my fly goes any deeper than that I will just cut the leader in order to avoid unnecessary stress and damage to the fish.

Next item would be a large net or pike cradle.  Both have their benefits but I have found if you are fishing by yourself a net is the better way to go (Brodin Excalibur Ghost Net in my case), because typically you need an extra person to hold the cradle while you steer the fish into it. The cradle makes for a quick and easy release with as little stress on the fish as possible. You are able to work on removing the hook while the fish rest in the cradle, allowing it to remain in the water and not adding pressure to the swim bladder.

You always should have a place to store the equipment, a large sling or day pack works best for storing your gear while out on the water. The Orvis Safe Passage Guide Sling is a solid choice if you are looking for the convenience of a sling pack, large enough to fit your Bugger Beast or Fishwest Bulkhead Box, tools and a water bottle. The sling feature is great when you’re wading around a lake and need to grab something out of your bag quickly, being able to swing the bag around your body instead of completely removing it helps when standing in the middle of a lake.

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Here are a few more items I like to carry with me when I’m out on the water:

  • Buff – These are lifesavers when it comes to blocking out unwanted weather. Great for both winter and summer fishing, blocks UV rays, protects against wind, keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and quick drying.
  • Lippa 4 Life – I like having these for the smaller fish, allows you to grab the fish by the mouth with minimal stress and damage done to the fish. They also allow for a solid grip on the fish mouth when removing the hook out of any toothy critter.
  • Stripping Guard – Hours upon hours of casting and stripping can cause havoc on your fingers, having a few of these helps avoid the cuts and burns one can get from consistent rubbing of the line against your finger.
  • Camera – To take a picture of anything of note throughout the day, hopefully it’s something fishy.
  • Big Nippa – I have used my trout nippers to cut the tippet for my pike leaders and it works the first couple of times, dulls the blades quickly, and getting the pliers out every time you need them is a pain. The new Big Nippa from Rising is killer for cutting your big game and saltwater leaders and tippets.

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Attention local customers: Fishwest will be having our annual fair on April 25, 2015. This years theme is Troutside the Box, focusing on Pike and Musky fishing in Utah. We will be going over fly patterns, techniques, equipment, and conservation. There will be food, drinks, demos, a casting competition, and plenty of great giveaways so stop on by. For everyone who can’t make it out stay tuned for part III!

Essentials for Pike Part 1 – The Packing List


IMG_7936Spring is right around the corner, and we at Fishwest are prepping for the upcoming pike season. With more fly anglers targeting these incredibly powerful fish, we have gotten many emails and customers coming in to the shop with questions on the proper gear they will need to catch them. So here is a rundown of some of the essential equipment we use when targeting Pike:

First you need the right fly rod. Typically we use 8 weight fly rods when targeting pike. The action of your rod may vary depending on how you are fishing. When blind casting, whether it’s from a boat or from shore, we have found a medium or medium/fast action rod works best. Pike flies can get relatively large; the slower action in a medium or medium/fast rod will allow the rod to load properly with less line and effort, thus cutting down on fatigue throughout the day.

ORF21HE2R4_lg_800x800If you are sight fishing for pike, a fast action rod will do the job best, this will allow you to present the fly quickly and more accurately than a medium action fly rod, plus it will help throw those large flies when the wind picks up. Also the fast action will help you cast further when sight fishing.

Richard’s choice: Helios 2 890-4 or Ross Essence FS 890-4

The next item to consider is your fly reel. Pike are not known for making long powerful runs after hook-up, but this doesn’t mean you want the cheapest reel on the market. They get big, so you will still want a solid drag and a reel that can hold a good amount of backing. Like I said before they are powerful so you will want a drag strong enough to stop them and have enough backing just in-case you do hook into that monster fish, 150 yards of 20lb backing should be more than enough for these fish. When it comes to the construction of the reel I look for machined reels with a sealed or easily maintained drag system. It isn’t out of the question to hook into a 40 inch fish when targeting this species and the last thing you want is for you drag to fail or for your spool to pop off midway through the fight.

Richard’s Choice: Orvis Mirage IV or Waterworks-Lamson Speedster HD 3.5

Once you have figured out your rod and reel setup, the next item to consider will be your line. First thing to consider is how you will be fishing for these guys; pike take top water flies just as much as they take streamers. For top water flies you will want a floating line of course, and for streamers you would want anything from a full intermediate line to a slow sinking line, around 1.5- 4 inches per second. We are usually targeting pike in the shallow marshes, water between 18 inches to 10 feet, so heavy sinking lines are not used as often and can cause headaches in this shallow water. A heavier sinking line may be appropriate if you are fishing in a swift moving river.

A lot of pike flies are large and sometimes not very aerodynamic, so you will want a line that will be able to turn them over and carry them through the wind. We suggest one with an aggressive front taper, this will help turn over the large flies as well as help load your rod. An aggressive taper will also allow you to make short quick cast when sight fishing. No matter on the type of line it helps to do a little research in your area on how anglers there are catching Pike, this may help narrow down the options to find the best line for the type of fishing in your area.Screenshot_2015-03-16-15-24-25-1

Richard’s Choice: Scientific Anglers Titan Taper (Intermediate) or Rio’s Outbound Short (Freshwater Intermediate)

Stay tuned for part two of Pike fishing Essentials where I go in depth into leaders, tools, and flies. Please feel free to contact us at 877.773.5437 with any questions that you may have.

 

Bonefishing 101: The Packing List Part 3

IMG_01085 days to go until the Fishwest hosted trip arrives at the “international” airport of Congotown on the island of South Andros in the Bahamas.  My packing list is nearing completion as that date draws closer and closer with each passing day. Between Part 1 and Part 2 of my packing list, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need in order to pack for a trip for a tropical saltwater fly fishing trip.

Next up is what I would categorize as dressing for success on the flats. Two things need to be remembered when dressing to go out. Your clothes need to be lightweight and moisture wicking “quick dry” if possible. Sun protection is also something that anglers should be mindful of when choosing apparel for a day of flats fishing. I will always opt for clothing that provides maximum coverage from the sun. I figure the more skin that is covered by clothes the better. The chances of getting a nasty sunburn diminish greatly, however with that being said don’t forget the aloe.

FWFSLFXGC_lgFirst up is the choice of shirt. Like I said before lightweight and quick drying is the name of the game, and you will stay cooler in those hot temperatures as well. I prefer shirts with a more muted color that is similar to the colors of the surroundings, light greys and tans are the best. Some anglers and guides will tell you to stay away from brighter colors, they say that it distracts and spooks the fish at times. I don’t know if this is true or not, however I sure don’t want to find out the hard way. It doesn’t matter if you opt for the more classic “traditional” look of a shirt like the Simms Ebbtide or the T shirt look of the Simms Solarflex, whatever you choose just make sure that they are long sleeved. The sun in those tropical saltwater latitudes has a tendency to burn very bright.  If you do choose to opt for a short sleeve shirt, you can always consider using the Simms Sunsleeves for additional protection.

Jc’s Choice: Howler Brothers Gaucho or Simms Solarflex Long Sleeve

SIF43ZOSPCK_lg_535x535Next up is the choice of pants. I remember the days of getting up on Saturdays and watching the Walkers Cay Chronicles with my dad, and seeing Flip Pallot on the front of a flats boat wearing jeans. I would steer clear from jeans while on the flats but I hear they are a popular choice of some guides. Instead I would opt for some  pants that are lightweight and breathable. I would opt for pants for two reasons. I know I by this point I sound like a broken record but protection from the sun is key. I would hate to have red calves at the end of the day because I opted to wear shorts one day. The second is that when fishing for bonefish you may find yourself wading through the some mangroves from time to time and your pants will provide you with some protection. Last thing… Please don’t forget to bring a belt.  Nobody wants to see your underwear when you are on the casting deck.

JC’s Choice: Simms Superlight Zip Off Pants

A hat is a must when fly fishing at any time in my humble opinion, especially on the flats. A cap keeps the sun off your face, and more importantly, out of your eyes. I prefer a trucker style hat with lightweight mesh. I would always opt for a hat with a dark under brim to help reduce the glare off the water.  Whichever hat you choose make sure to keep a strong hold on it while you are buzzing from flat to flat. The guides will laugh if you have to backtrack to pick up your wet and salty hat.

Jc’s Choice: Fishwest Trucker Cap or Patagonia Trucker Cap

SM49TSTMBPI_lg_535x535Polarized eyewear is an absolute must when stalking fish on the flats. When fishing the flats if you cannot see the fish chances are you are not going to be able to catch the fish. I really enjoy lenses with a copper or amber base lens tint; these lenses give the best color and contrast over a variety of light conditions and are great if you are opting to have one set of glasses for out on the flats. For extremely cloudy days you may want to consider having a set of glasses with yellow lenses, they work great on grey days.

JC’s Choice: Smith Touchstone (Black / Ignitor Lenses)

On those days that you are lucky enough to go wade for bonefish make sure that you have a solid set of Wading boots with you.  Strap sandals will not cut it in all situations. Besides If it were me I would hate to cut my foot on a limestone bottom or something like that, so rubber soled boots are important when stalking fish on foot.  Since I have a few balance issues I like to have a boot with a lot of support so I can stay upright. With that being said having a nice pair of wet wading socks will help to keep all the dirt and sand off your feet, and will leave your feet nice and happy after trudging around the flats for the afternoon.

JC’s Choice: Simms Flats Sneakers & Neoprene Wading Socks

For those times you are on the bow of the boat and want to keep your toes covered without footwear, I would suggest keeping a pair of socks on. They don’t impede performance on the bow and they protect you from the sun.  Runners toe socks are my choice to keep my feet happy on the boat. With those toe socks I can still feel the line under my feet when I inevitably step on it and they also help to reduce noise.

1912541_10153795284815142_635493957_nStay tuned for my last installment of this article. I am confident this list will help you get prepared for your next tropical saltwater destination. Feel free to contact us with any questions! We always welcome your tips and advice as well.

 

 

Bonefishing 101: The Packing List Part 2

009With ten days to go until my next Bahamian saltwater adventure, I find myself still compiling all my gear to head down for another wonderful trip. In this post I want to go over some more of the packing essentials for a Bonefishing adventure. In part 1 of my packing list, I went over arguably the three most important parts of a bonefishing setup. In this article we will continue down the list of items I think belong in any angler’s travel gear.

RI31BNFL_lg_535x535RI32SWFT_lg_535x535Next up on my list is leaders and tippet. In the wind you need a leader that is tapered correctly and stiff enough to turn over big flies easily. For the sake of simplicity and ease of prep grabbing a few of the Rio Bonefish Leaders is a must. These leaders are tapered to cope with wind and heavy flies with ease. I would recommend having enough leader and corresponding tippet for the worst case scenario. I like having a few 3 packs of each of the 10ft leaders in 8lb 10lb and 12lb. I like to fish these leaders with fluorocarbon tippet for more abrasion resistance. Those mangrove roots and sand mounds can be bad news for a leader setup.

UM14VEMS_lgFlies are the biggest variable in this whole equation in my personal opinion. Three factors to keep in mind when selecting the right flies to take on your next adventure are size, weight, and color. Size and weight of flies is extremely important when selecting flies for bonefish because of the variances in water depth. Fishing a big fly in skinny (shallow) water will cause the fly to land with a big splash and therefore no fish will be within 50 feet of that fly.  When fishing less weighted flies in deeper water the flies will take longer to sink and get in the “zone” and in a game where timing is everything, a slow sinking fly may be the reason for a blown shot.

The colors of the flies that you take along with you need to match the different bottoms of each flat. This is due to the fact that the shrimp and other food that the bonefish eat tend to take on the color of their surroundings.  This isn’t an exact science but flies need to match the flat pretty closely.

With that being said there are two flies that I would never be without on a Bahamian bonefishing flat.  The Pearl Gotcha and the Ververka’s Mantis shrimp are probably responsible for more than 80% of the bonefish I have hooked into. As far as sizing goes I was told that the bigger bones enjoy the larger meal, so most of the time i fish a size 2 or 4. However it is always nice to have a good selection of flies in the 2-8 size range in various colors. If you are just starting out and you want to get a good base of flies going, don’t hesitate to look any farther than the fly selections put out by Umpqua.  Flies don’t always have to be stored in a fancy box either, there have been times for me that flies have come out of an Altoids tin, however a box like the Umpqua Flats Box was a nice upgrade.

SIF80DCZPCH_lg_535x535Having a place to store your gear is a must when preparing for a day of bonefish.  I would recommend a pack like the Simms Dry Creek Z Backpack (Available Soon) . This nice waterproof pack can serve two purposes when out on the flats for a day. It can serve as a nice small boat bag to keep all your gear in or if you find yourself out wading for a period of time it doubles as a nice pack for that as well.

Items For Your Pack or on you:

  • A Buff – This tube of fabric is a lifesaver for your face and neck. They are a good idea when out in the sun.
  • A Camera – If you meet a large bonefish you may want to snap a shot or two. However please remember keep em wet if you can.
  • Tippet- Who knows this may get overlooked. Say a fish wraps you around a mangrove shoot or you need to lengthen your leader for picky fish, tippet is a good thing to have.
  • Pliers –Another no brainer right? Removing hooks safely and easily is best for both you and the fish in question. Make sure that you get some pliers with scissor blades. My grandpa the dentist would be disappointed to hear of people using their teeth to cut tippets.
  • Sunscreen – The sun in these tropical locations tends to cook things. Keep yourself covered in this stuff.

Please stay tuned for part three of this article. I have plenty of more to talk about. With the first two parts we are almost ready to head out to the flats.

Bonefishing 101: The Packing List pt 1

I find myself here with two weeks to go before the next Fishwest hosted trip to the Andros South Lodge and after a few years I think I finally have figured out how to pack accordingly. Since Bonefish are generally (and unfairly) categorized as one of the easiest fish to catch on the flats they have been they are becoming more and more popular to chase with a fly rod. These fish are a great way to introduce someone to saltwater fly fishing or for the experienced saltwater angler. From time to time we get anglers coming into the shop asking for our insight on how to pack how to pack when going to a bonefish destination. So here is a quick rundown “survival” guide on how to pack for your next trip:

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First and foremost you need a fast action 8 weight fly rod. A rod with a crisp fast action makes all the difference when sight casting to bonefish on the flats. Paired with the right fly line these rods load up easier giving the angler the ability to deliver flies both quickly and accurately which hopefully leads to more hookups.

JC’s choice: The Winston B3-SX or Sage One 890-4

Next up is a stout saltwater safe fly reel. Having a reel with a really good drag is a must when chasing bonefish. Backing capacity definitely comes into play as well with these fish. I would say that anglers should look for a reel with a minimum backing capacity of 200yds. I generally use 20lb backing with bonefish, however an argument can be made for Gel Spun backing or even the new Hatch Outdoors Braided backing. These Bahamian flats residents have a tendency to run all over the place when hooked and you need a reel that can slow them down and bring them to hand as quickly as possible. Reels with disc drags that are completely sealed are my preference due to having less maintenance after a tough day of fishing.

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JC’s Choice: The Hatch 7 Plus Mid Arbor Fly Reel or Orvis Mirage IV

Dialing in your fly line is a must when sight fishing on the flats. I would actually argue that the right fly line is the most important part of any fly rod setup out there. A line that will load up a rod quickly and more importantly pickup for second casts easily is paramount. These lines need to be able to perform accurately at medium and long distances.  Having a line with an aggressive front belly allows anglers to make shots in close with better success.

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JC’s Choice: The Scientific Anglers Sharkwave Saltwater Taper

Stay tuned for part two of my survival guide on how to pack for your saltwater destination trip. Please feel free to contact us at 877.773.5437 with any questions that you may have.

 

 

Hola, Señor Bass

I live in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a land blessed with hundreds of thousands of lakes.  However, in the whole province, there is only one lake with a reasonably catchable population of largemouth bass.  It’s certainly not a huge population and – judging by my catches – it’s a selective one.   I actually think the bass in that lake are not far removed from steelhead or musky – fish of a thousand casts each.   Being only forty minutes from my house, I paid the lake six visits last summer and caught a total of two bass.

Enter Lake El Salto, a bass factory (Dare I say a big bass factory?) just outside of Mazatlan, Mexico.  High numbers of bass and higher daily temperatures lured myself and my partner Deb there over the Christmas holidays.

Below is a brief look at the trip…

IMG_0091THE LAKE.  El Salto is a reservoir about 2 hours from Mazatlan in the Sierra Madre Mountains.  It was created in the 80’s and stocked with Florida strain largemouth.  Hordes of tilapia help keep the bass fat and happy.  With scattered mats of floating hyacinth against a backdrop of forested peaks, El Salto is also a gem to look at.  Adding to its visual appeal are an amazing number of herons, egrets, and coots.

THE LODGING. We stayed at the Angler’s Inn, right on the lakeshore.  A lodge van picked us up at the Mazatlan airport and dropped us off at a Mazatlan resort three days later.  The room was very comfortable and the food was outstanding. To make sure we made it through to supper, as soon as we got in from evening fishing, an appetizer and a drink were pressed into our hands.  All drinks and food were included.  Filet mignon and barbecued ribs are examples of items on the dinner menu.

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THE FISHING.  The fishing day was split.  The boat left shortly before sunrise at 6 AM and returned to the lodge for lunch around 11 AM.   A hearty meal and the accompanying margaritas induced a short siesta, then it was back on the water from 2 PM until dusk at 6 PM.

Dawn and dusk saw me working poppers around very bassy-looking cover.  When the sun was higher, I threw a Gummy Minnow to the same types of spots.  Weedguards were helpful in retrieving less than perfect casts.  Occasionally, I used a fast-sinking line to probe deeper water.

THE BOAT AND GUIDE.   The boat was a fast and stable Bass Tracker with fore and aft seats for fishing.  The lodge supplied a stripping tub; with the forward seat removed and the stripping tub in its place, the bow casting deck became very fly fisher friendly.  There were two comfortable seats amidships for high speed runs between spots.

IMG_0077Juan, our guide, had been working at the lake for twelve years.  El Salto has many arms, coves, and islands; he ranged all over the lake and showed us a lot of good-looking water.  Jaun was also an expert at using the electric trolling motor to keep the boat in perfect casting position.

Although Jaun generally guided folks with conventional gear, he was certainly comfortable with a long rod on board.  He was adept at recommending flies, lines, and leaders.  And he also understood the need for backcast room.

THE WEATHER.  Keep in mind this was the end of December…. At dawn, the temperature would be in the 50’s or 60’s, which made for some chilly boat rides even while wearing a fleece and a shell.  During the day, it would climb into the 70’s or 80’s and even a lightweight shirt felt downright hot.  Nevertheless, having just escaped a Canadian winter, it was a good kind of heat.   At dusk, as the fishing day ended, the temperature would get comfortably cool once more.  There was never even a hint of rain.

IMG_0139THE CATCH.   I fished three morning sessions and two afternoon sessions and caught about 15 bass.  They ranged in size from 1/2 pound to 2 pounds.  I used fly tackle exclusively and also caught a portly tilapia on a popper.  Deb fished only two afternoons and used spinning tackle; her numbers were about the same as mine but her fish were larger, boating a couple of three or four pounders.

Overall, the fishing was spotty at best but good enough to keep us anticipating the next cast.  Most other boats at the lodge had similar results, although a couple parties had sessions where they caught tons of fish, including a 6 and 7 pounder.  I think the weather was actually too good and the clear blue skies put the bass in a negative mood.  As well, high lake levels gave them more water to melt into.

IMG_0085MISCELLANEOUS. The rainy season is from July to October and Lake El Salto fills up.  During the remainder of the year, the lake is drawn down.  The boats can often be docked a half mile from the lodge when the lake is low.  Juan said that low lake levels concentrate the fish and improve fishing.  He considered May and June to be his favorite months and said the bass spawned in March.

Optimistically, I took a lot of BIG flies and brought along a 9 weight rod. Given the size of the fish caught and flies used, anything from a 6 to an 8 would not be out of place.  I used a Sage Largemouth for top water work and it excelled at this.

IMG_0135OTHER ACTIVITIES.  Although Lake El Salto is just about the fishing, nearby Mazatlan has great resorts, a picturesque old town, and all kinds of non-angling activities.

WOULD I GO BACK?   Yes!!!  I definitely think it deserves another shot.  Or perhaps Lake Picachos – a nearby lake that Angler’s Inn recently built a lodge on.

 

Fly Fishing Film Tour 2015

The 2015 F3T is right around the corner, and we at Fishwest can’t be more excited. The trailers are out and by the looks of them it will be another great event, here’s the trailer for Those Moments; a film by Kokkaffe Media’s Peter Christensen, supported by Orvis and Deneki Outdoors. The tour will be swinging through Salt Lake City February 19, 2015 at the Depot, tickets will be sold here at Fishwest starting January 2, 2015. If you have never made it to F3T before I highly suggest you do your best to make it to this years. It will be an all ages show, so bring the family!

 

Orvis Tuesday Tip: The Ready Position

** This video is brought to us by the wonderful staff over at The Orvis Company. Mastering the “ready position” can make all the difference in the world when fishing the flats from a boat.  From my personal experience I can tell you that this was pretty difficult at first to conceptualize. However I had never come across this before but it can truly make all the difference between success and failure out on the flats. Enjoy!

Diary of a Baby Tarpon Addict

I’ve been to a fair number of baby tarpon spots but I finally got a chance to spend three July days chasing them in Campeche, Mexico.  Here’s a sample…

5:35 AM:  The hotel van driver drops me off at the pier in total darkness.  I’m a little worried ‘cause the parking lot is completely empty.  Where is the guide’s vehicle?IMG_0018

5:43 AM:  Ah-ha!  The drone of an outboard answers my question and the guide pulls up in his panga.

5:55 AM: We’re driving through complete blackness at what seems like full throttle.  The only immediate illumination is the guide’s flashlight.  It is my second day fishing and the guide is taking me to the very edge of the usual fishing grounds.

6:09 AM:  The sun begins to peek over the horizon.  With a bit of light, the boat speeds up.  I’m quite relieved that we weren’t going as fast as possible through the dark.

6:50 AM:  The guide pulls up to where a creek pours into the mangrove shoreline.  The channel is about five feet wide.  With the first day jitters behind me, I get a fly tied on and my first cast off reasonably quickly.IMG_0027

6:54 AM:  Fish on!  A tarpon cartwheels to the left into the mangroves.   And it’s gone…

6:57 AM:  Fish on!  A tarpon cartwheels to the right into the mangroves.  And it’s gone…

7:01 AM:  Fish on!  This one  remains cooperatively in the middle of the creek and I land about a 3 pound snook.  I’m pumped!  It’s only the second snook I’ve ever caught.IMG_0046

8:21 AM:  I haven’t seen anything since the snook.  But my casting is dialed in.  I’m actually feeling rather smug.  I haven’t snagged a mangrove in at least half an hour.  I’m dropping my fly in every juicy little pocket that presents itself as we pole down the shoreline.

8:22 AM:  The guide calls out, “Tarpon!  By mangroves! 11 o’clock!”  I see a couple dark shapes in the clear water.   Naturally, my casting ability instantly implodes and the fly ends up in the mangroves about 4 feet above the tarpon. The tarpon simply melt away.

9:15 AM:  A small barracuda grabs my fly.  Luckily he doesn’t bite me off and I unceremoniously strip him in.  When he is ten feet from the boat a gang of three tarpon show up.  They are large for babies – about 20 pounds each – and look like they have mayhem on their minds.  At least as far as the barracuda is concerned…IMG_0050 2

9:20 AM:   The barracuda is unhooked and back in the water.  Somehow, the tarpon don’t notice as it darts away.   They are circling about 30 feet from the boat and they still look like a bunch of thugs.

9:30 AM:  Evidently, the tarpon are shrewd thugs.  They ignore two or three different flies and drift into the mangroves. IMG_0108

10:45 AM: The guide poles us by a large tree that has toppled into the water, extending well beyond the mangrove shoreline.  I crawl a Seaducer along the length of the tree.  Blow up!   A tarpon clears the water three or four times.  He is still hooked; I’m hopeful that this could be my first tarpon to the boat.

10:50 AM:  Yes! It makes it to the boat for a picture and a release.IMG_0045

11:45 AM:  After eating lunch further down the shoreline, we return to the fallen tree.  It’s a good call on the guide’s part because another tarpon inhales the Seaducer and comes to the boat.  But not quietly, of course – thrashing and churning all the way.

1:05 PM:  We’re on a large flat covered in turtle grass.  Every few minutes or so a tarpon comes within range.  It’s like this for about an hour and a half.  These tarpon are pretty cagey and I get mostly refusals.  Nevertheless, three or four end up leaping skward with my fly in their mouth.  But – sigh – all but one fall back down to the water with the fly indignantly tossed aside.  I have to admit I’m used to that.

2:35 PM:  We start the run back to Campeche.

4:00 PM:  I’m in the neighbourhood bar, enjoying a superb Margarita.  Life doesn’t get any better ‘cause I’ve got one more day of fishing left….

*    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Here’s a few notes about Campeche and the fishing…

Campeche is a great place to take a partner who doesn’t want to spend everyday in the boat.  It is an amazing city with stunning and historical architecture.  There are lots of comfortable hotels and good restaurants. IMG_0021

An 8 weight rod with a floating 9 weight line was perfect for Campeche’s baby tarpon.  I found a leader that was 11 or 12 feet long led to more grabs than the standard 9 footer.  Puglisi patterns, Seaducers, and Mayan Warriors a little better than 3 inches long worked well.   There was a lot of blind casting but a fair bit of sight fishing to both rolling and cruising tarpon.

The tarpon were generally between 5 and 10 pounds.  They were plentiful and grabby.  I never seemed to have to wait very long for my next shot.  Most baby tarpon locations seem to suffer a definite slow down during the heat of the day but the action in Campeche stayed reasonably consistent.  On an average day, I would get at least 10 or 15 strikes.  For the sake of brevity, I left out a few grabs in my diary above.

The diary also left out a couple noteworthy spots that were fished on another day…  Quite close to Campeche, there are some beautiful mangrove islands that seemed to hold rolling tarpon all day.  There are also hidden lagoons tucked into the mangrove shoreline where I literally watched schools of baby tarpon swim laps.  Although my partner never caught a fish, she fished those spots with me and had a great time just soaking up the scenery.

2014-08-17 12.11.05

Although he didn’t speak much English, the guide was great.  As well, he had a good panga with a casting platform.   My outfitter for the trip was Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures; they also have operations at Isla del Sabalo and Tarpon Cay Lodge.

**Editors Note: Fishwest hosts a yearly trip down to Campeche Mexico with Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures. Spots on our 2015 trip are still available however they are going fast. For further details please contact us at support@fishwest.com or visit the “Destination Travel” page of Fishwest HERE** -JC